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BW Businessworld

Rethinking Management Education And Its Models

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In their book, The Business School In The Twenty-first Century, Howard Thomas, Peter Lorange and Jagdish Sheth share  insights on designing the business school of the future and how to make it work

We take a critical view of management education and ask, alongside other critics, whether we really know what management education is, or should be, about. Our position is that we need to rethink the meaning and concept of the business school and our current philosophies of management education. Consequently, we pose the following questions:
1)    What is management about? Is it an art or a science?
2)    Do we have a theory of managing?
3)    What is the proper content of management education?
4)    What are the core management skills?
5)    Is there a new, more radical management education model that can focus our thinking and hence provide insights into the logic of the range of alternative models that are currently being proposed?

What is management and what should be the content of management education?
For many years, the most strident and important critic of management education has been Professor Henry Mintzberg. In his book Managers, Not MBAs, which summarises and synthesizes much of his thinking, he states in his preface:  “I was simply finding too much of a disconnect between the practice of management that was becoming clearer to me and what went on in classrooms, my own included, intended to develop managers.” More importantly, he argues that management is not a science: “Management certainly applies science: managers have to use all the knowledge they can get, from the sciences and elsewhere. But management is more of an art, based on ‘insight’, ‘vision’,  ‘intuition’.”

In essence, agreeing with Peter Drucker, he summarises the practical role of the manager as follows: “Put together a good deal of craft with a certain amount of art and some science and you end up with a job that is above all a practice.”

Focussing more on the content of management education, J. Sterling Livingstone in his article on the ‘Myth of the Well Educated Manager’ wrote the following comments: “Formal management education programmes typically emphasize the development of problem solving and decision making skills ... but give little attention to the development of skills required to find the problems that need to be solved, to plan for the attainment of desired results, or to carry out operating plans once they are made.”

Above all else, the proposition is that the field of management education should be broad, including careful examination of managerial skills of problem search and framing, strategizing and implementing change. It should not be beset by narrow functional specialization. It is clearly characterized by paradox and ambiguity (P.J. Schoemaker 2008) and hence, requires holistic thinking of important skills of synthesis as well as insights into analysis and analytic thinking…

What is the content of management education?
S.R. Watson — an experienced dean who has held the position at three schools in the UK (Cambridge, Henley and Lancaster) — focusses very clearly on the proper content, and positioning of management education. Many of the themes he stresses draw on Mintzberg’s descriptions of managerial work and management practice though he also advances Cardinal Newman’s ideas on liberal education and E.D. Hirsch’s work on cultural literacy as important influences on well designed curricula of management education.

He uses Mintzberg’s seminal analysis of managerial work to throw light on the skills and key roles of the manager. As noted by Watson, Mintzberg identifies ten roles that managers fulfil. Three are seen as interpersonal, involving personal and organizational skills, three are seen as informational, requiring monitoring and dissemination of appropriate information and four are viewed as decisional including resource allocation, negotiation and entrepreneurial skills.

Watson then translates the necessary managerial skills and qualities that should be possessed by good managers.
• Peer skills: the ability to enter into and maintain peer relationships;
• Leadership skills: the ability to motivate and train subordinates, to provide help and to deal with the problems of authority and dependence;
• Conflict resolution skills: the skill of mediating between conflicting individuals and handling disturbances;
• Information processing skills: the abilities to discover relevant information and to present it to others;
• Skills in decision making under ambiguity: how to realize that a decision has to be made and then how to make that decision;
• Resource allocation skills: the skill of choosing between competing resource demands;
• Entrepreneurial skills: the ability to search for problems and opportunities and to implement change in organizations;
• Skills of introspection: managers need to understand themselves and to learn how to learn;
Mintzberg’s view is that at least one third of all management education programmes should be devoted to addressing this managerial skill base. However, it is doubtful whether few, or any, programmes other than Mintzberg’s own IMPM (International Masters in Practising Management) satisfy or even come close to his criterion despite the many criticisms of management education programmes.

If one third of an ideal programme should encompass training in Mintzberg type managerial skills, what should constitute the other two thirds?
Watson argues that the remaining elements of management should include both the traditions of liberal education as exemplified by Newman and also detailed exposition of the underlying knowledge base of the competitive economic, social and technological environment faced by the manager. Adopting Newman’s principles of liberal education into the management curriculum would involve the development of the intellectual skills of analysis, criticism and synthesis. For Newman, these skills were fundamental and their objective was clear.

They allowed the individual to become introspective, open minded, insightful and possess the ability to absorb knowledge critically in framing problems and making decisions. Such liberal education courses are currently not common in existing business school curricula.

In addition, the domain of management knowledge and knowledge about the structure and functioning of organizations is usually the core component of most existing management programmes. Most curricula typically focus on the following elements: the social and organizational environment (the domain of social scientists), the economic and financial environment (the domain of economists, business cycles, lawyers and accountants) and the strategic and quantitative elements of marketing operations, logistics and public/ corporate policy (the domain of managing growth and organizational direction). Overall, this domain knowledge encompasses the roles and activities of the manager and the organization. Careful articulation of this knowledge , therefore, produces a sound competence level for the managerial knowledge base. However, most current programmes over-emphasise domain knowledge and underemphasise the multi-disciplinary nature of the management task.

What are the challenges and key forces driving change in management education?
Some immediate observations can be made about the current academic environment and its implications for the conduct of management education.

•The funding of higher education is a critical issue across the world (for example, the original introduction of so-called ‘top up’ fees in UK higher education, and the subsequent escalation of such fees to current levels of  £9,000 per annum). The consequences of continued alleged under-funding of universities have been the increasing use of part-time faculty, the relative unattractiveness of academic careers and mounting evidence of financial failure. Further, pressure from governments and regulatory bodies such as Britain’s QAA (Quality Assurance Agency), with its focus on teaching quality, and the RAE/ REF (Research Excellence Framework) with its focus on research quality, will require business schools to balance quality education against criteria of cost efficiency and organizational effectiveness.

•The growth of the global economy and the recent significant shift of economic power from the West to the East create new opportunities and challenges for business schools. In parallel with the rapid development of quality business schools in Europe and Asia, successful competition with foreign schools will require a balanced global view of business education and increased recognition of cultural diversity in teaching methods, teaching materials and case studies.

•Student demand patterns, particularly in large growing economies such as China and India, and the emergence of new learning technologies will require schools to pay increasing attention to the potential of educational models based on flexible just-in-time learning and the blend between face to face campus-style learning and interactive e-learning technologies.

•Social factors including population ageing, two-income families and increased life expectancy will probably result in increased demand for innovative forms of lifelong learning in many countries.

Howard Thomas is dean and LKCSB chair in Strategic Management at Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University.  Peter Lorange is president of the Lorange Institute of Business, Zurich.

Jagdish Sheth is the Charles H. Kellstadt chair of Marketing at the Goizueta Business School, Emory University, Atlanta.

(Edited excerpt taken from The Business School in the Twenty-First Century: Emergent Challenges and New Business Models by Howard Thomas, Peter Lorange & Jagdish Sheth, Cambridge University Press (2013). Reproduced with permission).  

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 01-12-2014)